May 06, 2020 / in Comms Best PracticesBest Practices

Welcome to our new series here on the Cision blog: Take 5. It's five quick questions on PR, the state of the industry, and how it interconnects with everything else (like the evolving COVID-19 communications crisis), all with the brightest minds around. 

We've gotten so many great insights from the experts in our webinar series on Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty we wanted to follow up on some of the questions we received to share with a wider audience. 

Scott Peacock, Director of Public Relations and International Tourism, Visit Raleigh shares his thoughts below. 

1. How should brands approach using warm humor when communicating with stakeholders, or other audiences? Is it appropriate even weeks into this situation?

Yes, we are at a point now where psychologically most consumers need a lift, positive thoughts and emotions and the physical health benefits that come from them. So, if it’s germane to your brand identity then I say use it in the same way you would before, that is what drew your consumers to you in the first place. If humor is something new to your brand voice, then just tread lightly, literally. A light sense of humor that evokes a laugh and positive sentiment can still be effective and gain you additional customers.

A great example of the use of humor in the tourism marketing space is Discover Durham, they have a great brand identity based on a bit of irreverence and playfulness and they have navigated these waters very well lately on their social media channels.

2. Is there a way to spread some goodwill and cheer in these uncertain times (maybe through social) and it not seem self-serving?

Yes, make it about the people behind the goodwill. Be it your staff, employees, customers. Use “they” instead of “we” and lift up the individuals involved, sharing their story and passion instead of overtly making it about how proud you are that they work for you, or are affiliated with you, etc. Individual acts of kindness are going a long way right now to inspire others and if you do it right and organically, your brand will get the attribute without having to pat yourself on the back.

3. Do you have any more suggestions for social content in the travel industry? How can we inspire travel without a call to action, and without knowing when people will be able to plan travel again?

Inspiration over Information. We can tell people all day long how safe our hotels, attractions, restaurants and destinations are. What measures we’re putting into place, how our number of COVID-19 cases have dropped or never spiked to begin with. But realistically we can’t promise anyone when it will be safe for them to travel again as it’s a matter of personal comfort, not fact.

Even when borders open up again and people are free to travel as they please, each individual is going to have their own spectrum of decision-making and we have to respect that by not trying to push them too hard.

Before you tell people what you’re doing to make them feel safe in your establishment, remain sensitive to that fact by simply reminding them why they love to travel in the first place and in effect give them positive, yet gentle encouragement. Re-attach them to the emotions it evokes, from a sense of adventure or unknown to relaxation and centering oneself or to the human connections that it brings that span culture and place.

Remind them why travel matters to them first and then use visuals of your property, attraction or destination experience that best represent that feeling, emotion or reason. Then you can follow-up with messaging around ensuring their safety when they visit.

If you can do so successfully, you’ll be able to deepen their connection to your brand/travel experience when they do decide to venture out again.

4. For those in the Tourism and Travel industry- how can we help our DMOs and Tourism partners, but also be concerned about our bottom line- because we do have a business to run.

These are tough times for everyone and if you’re an agency or independent practitioner you’ve felt the sting more than anyone else perhaps. I think the best thing you can do right now is be empathetic, generous and lean on your relationships/trust you’ve built. Your clients may not have the money to pay for services right now, but they need your thought leadership and guidance more than ever. Letting them know you are there for them no matter what and willing to do some pro-bono work even if limited in scope will serve you well when better times and budgets return.

Relationships are everything right now and remember its word-of-mouth and your reputation that got you to where you are and it’s those same two things that will lead to your growth once the recovery occurs. Now is not the time to burn bridges or turn your backs on clients. We will get through this and when we do and the shoe is on the other foot, you will need them as much as they need you now. Choose kindness.

5. What are some lessons you and your team have learned during this time that you hope stick around post-pandemic?

First, I think we’ve all learned a great deal about efficiencies and best practices for working remotely and within remote teams while still allowing collaboration. The video conferencing alone- although scary to some at first- has proven invaluable as the facial expressions, tone and sentiment of the other person is no longer lost behind an email or even a traditional conference call. We are able to break down so many barriers that have existed for way too long. I hope this sticks around post pandemic and we all consider replacing traditional conference calls with video conferencing (unless you’re driving, of course).

Second, feeling comfortable in the awkward unknown. We’ve had to realize just how little control we actually have at times on business and life. What do you do when, like it or not, there are no obvious answers? Learning to cope with that fear and embrace it, channeling it to positive thinking and creative brainstorming, being even more open to ideas you may once have tossed aside has proven invaluable. It has shown us when things are normal again and we’re all back to the hustle and flow of everyday life, we need to remember we can only control so much and sometimes your best ideas come when you give up control.

I’ve been studying Stoicism for a few years now and Marcus Aurelius has a great meditation on this:

"You have been formed of three parts: body, breath, and mind. Of these, the first two are yours insofar as they are only in your care. The third alone is truly yours."

Third and finally, Tourism Matters! This pandemic and the economic fallout of literally shutting down the tourism and hospitality industry overnight has been widespread. It’s given us a chance to educate elected officials, stakeholders and locals in our areas of just how much they all rely on the visitor economy for their overall quality of life. With the fall of tax collections affecting municipal budgets and more people on the unemployment line than any other industry it’s served as a needed wakeup call to the value of tourism in driving broader economic development and quality of life. I hope this value proposition finally sticks.

Hospitality and tourism aren’t just a fun, frivolous luxury we all have, it’s a serious industry with broad economic reach. Many federal, state and local economies as well as small to large businesses and the livelihoods of millions of people around the world depend on it. And these businesses and their employees need more protections and to be viewed as just as valuable- even too valuable to let fail- as other sectors of the economy moving forward.

Scott is the Director of Public Relations and International Tourism for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Raleigh). He is responsible for the Bureau's public relations efforts including consumer and trade media relations as well as influencer marketing, crisis response, issues and reputation management, community awareness and internal communications. He also oversees international travel trade sales and marketing programs for the Bureau. Scott is also is the current chair of Destinations International's PR/Communications Task Force and was the former chair of the Public Relations Society of America's Travel & Tourism Section, a board he's served on for more than seven years and was also formerly a member of the U.S. Travel Association's Communications Advisory Committee. Prior to joining Visit Raleigh in 2016, Scott was the Public Relations Manager for Visit North Carolina, where he was in charge of leading the unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina's efforts to create awareness of North Carolina as a travel destination through targeted public relations strategies.

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